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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

5 Factors When Choosing In-Ear Monitors

Being Fitted For In-Ears
It's amazing at the extent that in-ear monitors (or IEMs) have taken over in live sound. Today you can go to any club and be assured that at least one of the musicians on stage will be wearing them.

While mixing in-ears is a whole different ballgame, there's a larger issue that musicians must deal with before they even hit the stage - how to choose the right one. The Aviom blog recently posted a nice article on choosing a set of in-ears, but I thought I'd put my own spin on it.

1. True in-ears are not ear buds. They're only the same in the fact that they go inside your ear and that's where the similarity ends. In-ears are designed for high volume levels and have the ability to withstand a lot of vibration without dislodging.

2. Do you really need wireless? If you're a keyboard player that stands at your rig and doesn't move much, a wireless setup might be a waste of money. It would be better to spend the extra cash on a better set of in-ears than on the wireless part of the rig.

3. Do you need them custom-fitted or is a universal fit sufficient? Custom molded IEMs require a visit to an audiologist, and provide better isolation and sound quality. They're also more expensive. Universal ones are sharable (as long as you use clean tips) and less expensive.

4. Do you need multiple drivers? Many IEMs are available with specialized drivers similar to the woofer and tweeter of a speaker cabinet. Some people feel this provides better clarity, while others don't feel the extra technology is worth the extra cost.

5. Check the specs. While the differences in most specs are small, be aware that both the sensitivity and impedance specs directly translate to the amount of power that will be required. A set of in-ears with a high sensitivity and low impedance will be louder than one with either lower sensitivity or higher impedance.

In general, IEMs are just like monitor speakers. The better they are, the more you can hear and the longer you can listen to them without ear fatigue. You're usually better off spending the money on the IEMs first and foremost, then adding the wireless portion later if needed.

Check out Westone, Ultimate Ears, and (among many others) for more info on IEMs.

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1 comment:

Rand said...

I'm a singer/guitarist and began using an IEM system 4 years ago and it's the best decision I've ever made towards finally and perfectly hearing what's necessary on stage, as well as allowing me to sing properly, without any strain for hours at a time.

IEMs have been protecting the only set of ears and precious hearing I've got from the extreme and harmful prolonged volume levels, feedback spikes, cymbal crashes, etc. one can be subjected to simply to hear themselves, as well as others on a busy stage.

When you dial in your own mix from the board you can be happy and comfortable with, it eliminates the typically inevitable domino-effect of each musician turning up their own instrument's volume to compensate their position in the race to be who's loudest. If everyone's using IEMs on stage there's no need to even consider that route.

It's become a mandatory part of my gigging ethos and I'll never work without them. There's far more advantages to using a quality set of IEMs compared to the unnecessary time-consuming chores of transporting, setting up and tweaking old-fashioned floor wedges, etc. Even recording with them is an option worth experimenting with.

The only disadvantage is getting accustomed to using IEMs in the beginning and the 'isolation' you may experience at first. The sound you hear is more direct and focused and excludes quite a bit of your normal surroundings, including that all important audience feedback.

A little trick to compensate for this is to place an extra mic facing the audience and have that mixed into your own personal headphone mix.

Like anything new, IEMs take some getting used to, but everyone I know who's taken the plunge concur they'd never go back to performing on stage as before without them.


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